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Social Media: So Far So Good

Social Media Week* unfurled at a dozen cities around the globe last week. I was fortunate to attend several events in Los Angeles and enjoyed the irony of finding pleasure and purpose in interacting with people in the flesh (real live human beings!) rather than via Tweets, blog comments, and Facebook messaging. Read more

Can MySpace Get Its Sexy Back?

It's understandable that MySpace would want to regain its groove by hooking up with a hipster like Justin Timberlake, one of its new owners. But what does the singer-actor see in this tone-deaf cougar of social networking? An ad-placement outfit called Specific Media brought in the tastemaker as an investor in its $35 million purchase, or roughly a dollar for each of MySpace's 34.9 million U.S. users (per comScore). That’s only 6 percent of what seller Rupert Murdoch paid just six years ago for the service, which pitches music and other media to users based on their profiles. Is it a bargain
or a value trap? What can the new bosses do better?  Did Timberlake's turn as former Facebook president Sean Parker in the movie The Social Network give him some special insight for his new true-life role? Those looking to turn around a business (or a career or even a life) must first honestly assess their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (good old SWOT analysis). Beyond name recognition (now enhanced with the Timberlake association), MySpace has an immense trove of marketable user information and it's in the hot-hot-hot consumer social media sector. In the negative column, its flat-footedness has left it isolated, losing money, and swamped by numerous rivals that are well capitalized, popular, innovative, and determined. Hmm... Timberlake, with more than 5 million Twitter followers, has said he wants a place for artists to connect with fans, but MySpace has tried to do that for years without much effect; hence, Twitter. No, the big idea from Specific Media seems to be encouraging users to share favorite ads with their friends. OMG: I can’t wait to share my favorite product pitches with everyone I know!! Wait, what? Is that what passes for social exchange and enrichment? Doing the heavy lifting of advertisers? Why did Myspace ever let this happen? It was way, way ahead of Facebook just a few years ago. Now it only has some 225 employees, down from 1,400 a couple years ago, and will lose $165 million for the fiscal year ending today, June 30. Why did it fail to recruit or retain top tech talent? Why did it fail to open up its service to outside developers (Farmville, anyone?) Why did it let youngsters like Groupon and Zynga zoom ahead to valuations in the tens of billions? And why did Rupert Murdoch dye his hair orange? What MySpace failed to do, primarily, was product development, according to the real Sean Parker. "It was basically this junk heap of bad design that persisted for many, many years," the Napster co-founder told Jimmy Fallon at the NExTWORK Conference in New York. [http://tcrn.ch/iGNSOr] "There was a period of time where if they had just copied Facebook rapidly, they would have been Facebook. They were giant, the network effects, the scale effects were enormous.” Why do any of us lose our way? A variety of factors from arrogance to misplaced trust can lead us astray, but it's almost always pride that prevents us from getting back on track. All you can do is accept the new reality on the ground, dust yourself off, and keep going (hopefully a little the wiser). Parker, a bankrupt hacker not that long ago, did; look where it got him. And give News Corp. some credit. It’s fairly nimble for a leviathan. It rapidly bulked up on Internet properties and then shed them when fleeter rivals overtook them. (It also too-quickly flipped the Dodgers to the McCourts, but that’s another tale of woe.) The corporation is now doing the smart thing of developing digital versions of its real product: its television and newspaper brands. Funny how media’s other irascible octogenarian, Sumner Redstone, didn’t step up to buy MySpace once it fell into the clearance pile. After all, the Viacom chieftain canned well-regarded Tom Freston for the sin of  letting MySpace slip through his fingers and into the hands of nemesis Murdoch for a mere $580 million in 2005. (Businessweek shortly afterward referred to it as one of the savviest acquisitions ever.) Poor Freston. He didn’t want to overpay. There will always be plenty who do (viz, the $5 billion later paid for Dow Jones, once again by Murdoch). Look no farther than current valuations for new media properties. Living Social is eying a $1 billion IPO; its larger rival Groupon dreams of $20 billion. Facebook, MySpace’s vanquisher, has gone from $30 to $50 to $80 to $100 billion in valuation estimates (or is it a trillion this week?). LinkedIn’s recent public offering made it the most expensive stock in the market, with a price to earnings ratio of more than 1,000. By absorbing MySpace, Specific Media is probably laying the groundwork for its own public offering. “We have one of the most creative people driving the creative strategy,” Tim Vanderhook, Specific Media’s CEO said of Timberlake. [http://on.wsj.com/isHi2b] “That’s a huge difference than what was done in the past.”

The Best Way to Shop, Bar None

It’s not just mobile devices that are increasingly “smart” – they’ve earned their sobriquet by greatly boosting their owners’ intelligence as well. Consider how they’ve broken the bar code, that series of thick and thin vertical lines attached to a product that contains price information and helps vendors track inventory. Now your clever little hand held friend can scan it and track down the best price, wherever it may be. You may only need you to type or speak the name (or even just description) of your object of desire. And shazaam: the best deals, online and in stores. Retailers have grown afraid of these ruthless new competitors residing in the pockets of their erstwhile customers. But not nearly enough.
Almost half (45 percent) of shoppers with smartphones use them to do on-the-spot price checks, according to consulting firm IDC Retail Insights, putting huge pressure on retailers to compete on price – on everything, all the time.
The big box has become a big sponge, letting all sorts of precious, valuable information in and out. “The four walls of the store have become porous,” Greg Girard of IDC told The Wall Street Journal. “The retailer’s advantage has been eroded.” [WSJ, 12/16/10] That leaves the salesman with less and less to do. Almost three quarters (73 percent) of shoppers with smartphones preferred to consult their mobiles rather than an appliance jockey on the floor, according to a 10-nation study in 2010 conducted by the big management consultancy Accenture. The casualties are already mounting. Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics chain, saw its stock plunge before Christmas 2010 (typically its most lucrative period) after it conceded it was losing market share, which analysts said was due at least in part to mobile-equipped bargain shoppers. On the day retailers traditionally go “into the black” for the year (dubbed “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving), 5.6 percent of shoppers used a mobile device to access retail sites in 2010 – a 56-fold increase in one year, according to Coremetrics, an IBM division that measures e-commerce activity. [WSJ, 12/16/10] Soon enough it will be the percentage of those not shopping with their mobiles that will be in the single digits. There are ways for retailers to suck it up and make lemonade from the new reality. Beleaguered Best Buy, for instance, has partnered with TheFind (which was downloaded 400,000 in its debut month) to target consumers with ads while they’re in the store – or at a competitor’s like WalMart. “That is an opportunity to steal a sale right when someone is in the throes of making a decision,” Barry Judge, Best Buy’s chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal. “That is what makes mobile so powerful.” And shameless. Siva Kumar, chief executive of TheFind, is unapologetic of playing both sides of the transaction. “It is not a consumer-only game,” he told the Journal. “Retailers can use it to their advantage.” Nobody said war was pretty, but competing strictly on price is a losing battle, especially with the high upkeep of physical stores. More promising survival tactics would include:
  • Selling merchandise that customers can’t get anywhere else
  • Bundling special services with products
  • Removing or encrypting bar codes to stymie deal-seeking mobile customers
No matter how retailers adjust to the mobile age, it seems clear there will be less need for so many or such large retail showrooms, especially those selling commoditized merchandise or stuff readily available on the web. You have to wonder what’s going to happen to the commercial real estate market when this realization really sinks in.

Tiptoeing Through the Typo Minefield

So you’re writing an article about new laws. Being thorough, you do a computer spell check when you’re finished. Now, thanks to technology, you’re good to go. Too bad the word you meant to write as “statutes” came out as “statues,” and the computer didn’t think to correct it. Because statues is also a word. And because computers don’t think. That’s your job. Consider yourself lucky: you could have typed “pubic” instead of “public.” It happens. You have to be careful; there are so many ways to get caught with your pants down when it comes to professional communications. You may be writing about policies, but end up with polices. Resigned can become re-signed. Just. Like. That. Or you might type a word according to how it sounds and end up with sense instead of since. Or peak instead of pique (or peek), woe when you meant whoa. Editing is integral to good writing, and it has many levels, from structural to proofreading. The more important the document, the more crucial it is to have an outside editor assist you in your cause. Even as simple a task as proofreading may seem, it’s difficult to perform properly on your own work. That's because your brain knows what you meant to say and will read something that isn’t actually on the page or screen. Your brain is just trying to be helpful -- helpful like a lame friend who doesn't know how to tell the truth you need to hear. One way to avoid an ugly confrontation with yourself is to proofread your work backwards, from the end to the beginning. This forces you to read each word individually instead of scanning whole sentences. Still, reading backwards is most effective if you are only looking for incorrectly spelled words and less so for catching correctly spelled, but incorrect, words. So you might also employ the following trick: search for “danger words” after you’re finished proofreading. For example, if you intend to use the word “public” be on the safe side and search for “pubic” when you're done. Similarly for “manger” if you use manager in your publication, “contact” for contract, "county" for country. Or vice versa. A sloppily edited piece makes you look bad and may even cripple your objective. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or aptitude to proofread (or do other editing) properly, contact PubArts. We guarantee a 24-hour turnaround on small projects. We'll help you out. Unlike that unreliable so-called friend of yours, your brain.

Know Thy Customers (Rule #1: Don’t Use “Thy” When Talking to Them)

Successful companies build relationships with their customers, and to do that effectively they have to speak like their customers. Social media is no different. Given the jocular and pithy nature of the space, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube messaging that tracks informal and humorous tends to work best. That’s who the customers are, or want to be. So Old Spice is hailed for its multi-platform integration of the Big Three (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) in its naked guy advertising campaign. Gillette too got kudos (and lots more “followers” and “friends”) with the humorous “manscaping” theme to sell razors. The jocular tone could benefit other firms. “Many companies need to learn how to be, well, friendlier in a social space,” Sam Ford, director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom Communications, told Portfolio.com. http://bit.ly/smtalktips An obvious key to effective communication is listening – and in marketing, listening to the customer. This is a lesson still to be learned by most in the social media space. The Old Spice guy showed the way as he tweeted followers in real time, directly addressing their comments. A collective gasp escaped the blogosphere: “Genius!” (That’s what 13 million YouTube page views and 43,000 Twitter followers in 48 hours sounds like.) The commercials also scored points with marketing experts by not hawking the brand too hard, but simply tucking the cologne into the towel of the topless dude, letting it speak for itself. Of course you can’t just mimic someone else’s campaign and get the same effect. The novelty is gone. So the lesson is determining who your customer is, how they like to see themselves and how they talk amongst themselves. The lesson is not trying to sell your Chevy with a buff model dressed only in a towel.
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